New weather buoy deployed off Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

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ALGER COUNTY, Mich (WJMN) – Michigan Technological University’s Great Lakes Research Center deployed a new spotter buoy at Grand Portal Point on the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore the weekend of June 27. MTU has used buoys for several years to measure weather and water conditions in Lake Superior and in the Straits of Mackinaw. They recently received a grant from CIGLER providing the funds for several new ‘spotter’ buoys that differ slightly from the ones they’ve used in the past.

The first buoy was deployed to monitor the weather for a dredging project near Gay in April. The research center used that opportunity to test the spotter buoys. John Lenters, associate research scientist, says since COVID-19 slowed down some of the normal buoy deployment in other areas. The Great Lakes Research Center decided to deploy spotter buoys to fill the gaps in weather and lake condition reporting.

“They measure wave conditions so that’s like wave height and wave direction and wave period how frequently the waves come by, and then also surface water temperature and they estimate wind speed as well from the conditions,” said Lenters.

The new ‘spotter buoys” are smaller than older buoys that MTU has been using. Spotter buoys measure 16 inches in diameter and weigh about 12 pounds. Lenters says that and other reasons contributed to their choice of the buoys.

“They transmit their data through satellite so you don’t necessarily need to, most of these other ones you need to be in cell phone range because that’s how they transmit the data,” said Lenters. “So it was a variety of reasons but you know the relatively low cost compared to the larger ones and so it allowed us to purchase a number of these and put them in different spots.”

Data from the buoys is available to anyone for research or to check lake conditions before heading out on a boat. However, Lenters says it will take a few years before enough data is collected to do significant research from it.

“Eventually we’ll have graduate students and other scientists looking at the data analyzing it for trends in water temperature or wave height, or looking at extreme events like coastal storms,” said Lenters

In past years, Lenters says they have received positive feedback from kayakers that use information gathered by buoys to plan trips. The new buoy at Grand Portal Point reports conditions every thirty minutes and can be found at uglos.mtu.edu.

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